It’s hard to deny that the economy sucks right now, but in the world of tourism the recession has had some positive effects for travellers’ pockets. I was scrolling through flight deals on STA Travel recently and couldn’t help but contain my delight at how cheap it is to fly abroad this summer! Having done a fair amount of ‘me’ travel, though, I felt I was getting to the point where I would like to – here come those infamous words – ‘give something back’. When it came to scrolling though volunteer projects and opportunities, however, the prices weren’t quite as friendly.
Volunteering abroad is a tricky discussion topic, because while many of us want to do it, the cost can often prove a steep hurdle, and considering the nature of what people are paying to do this can seem absurd. Often we are able to give time and not money. The flip side of this, though, is that while many organisations may appreciate the manpower, if there is no money going into the projects then there simply are no projects. If we can pay £500 to get to Uganda, why can’t we pay £200 more to help the cause we’re supporting?
This doesn’t seem too unreasonable, but it often just isn’t the case. Many volunteering operators charge thousands of pounds for as little as 6 or 8 weeks of community work, and when the currency exchange is taken into account (even with the pound as it is at the moment) one can’t help feeling that they are being, for lack of a better phrase, ripped off! Frequently when people sign up with an organisation, a lot of money goes towards the organisation rather than the project, especially when the organisation is outside of the country they’re volunteering in; and while the companies do a valuable job in promoting volunteer opportunities, many of us just don’t have thousands of pounds to spend on a few months, on top of flights and often insurance and visas as well.
So what is the solution? Well, here are a few. If you wanted the security and organisation of going with a company there are those that will pay for travel expenses, such as VSO. Another, more obvious option is that if you have contacts within a country, get in touch! Chances are they’ll know someone who knows someone. Alternatively, you can just ask around when you arrive. There are a number of people I know who arrived in South Africa, Kenya or Thailand and asked at the local hospital, a school or an orphanage if there was anything they could do to help, and most of the time there will be. If this sounds scary, www.truetravellers.org is a way for searching for cheap or mostly free locally organised opportunities, and you can do it once you’ve arrived or before you leave.
So if like me you have been feeling increasingly exasperated as a result of expenses preventing you from ‘doing good’ this summer, don’t worry! It is possible to volunteer on-the-cheap, it just requires some inventive thinking, a little patience and a lot of persistence!